I'm no longer cold. The water is warm and I'm as close to heaven as I can remember. But if I'm in heaven, then I just have one question.
Does that make me an angel?
No. I'm not an angel. Angels don't question their existence. Angels can remember their past. They never feel staticfuzz and their thoughts are coherent. Angels don't have blue hair and they don't stand naked underneath a gushing pipe in some forgotten underground hole washing off the blood and gore from their latest battle.
Also, angels never use the word glitch.
Only wirewitches are allowed to observe the death rites, so I'm here instead. I didn't want to see them anyway, couldn't take that right now. The loss embodied in those last acts would move me more than I could bear. It's already chewing me up inside, gnawing and churning around in there. Four senseless deaths. No reasonable cause was there to jerk my attention and I hate that. I need the reason. I need the cause. I need answers.
It all happened so fast that my mind hasn't had time for the deep questions much less the deep answers. Now, it is over. At the very least, it is time for the questions.
But I'm tired. Mind doesn't want to expend the energy required to query the world. Answers may provide some stability, but the search for them can be the great challenge, the draining pursuit.
Or maybe I'm just afraid of the consequences.
Eventually I'm clean, clothed once again. Not in the same clothes that the wirewitches gave me, but clothes from Aran. It's a black skinsuit this time. Baggy and ill-fitting, but I won't wear those others again. They've been desecrated.
It's warm down here. Don't know where this place is. Aran brought us here, and he didn't explain himself. Seems to be a trait. He sold his soul to the machine and now he pays the price. Probably has emotion suppressers and sees the world in altered hues. Don't know how much of his body is original, but it certainly isn't a majority. And that's just the physical. What about his persona? How much of him is really just the interaction of his molecules with his fleshware? The real him was slain during the operations which made him what he is. What a mess.
I find Aran leaning against the wall in an adjoining room. JACK enters without saying a word. The rites are complete, and the sole survivor bows her head, hair stalks drooping.
"Water and skinsuit in there," Aran says, pointing.
JACK leaves exactly as she entered, wordless.
Aran and I are solitary together. His trenchcoat is off and I can see that his body has repaired itself further. I look down at my foot, still bandaged. Not feeling any fire down there right now. Good. The natural way may not measure up in speed, but at least it feels right.
"So," Aran says. "Who are you, why do you hang around with wirewitches, and what the glitch did you do to piss off a couple of eoas?"
"Just getting to the point."
"Don't take any nonsense, do you?"
"Not even on days when I haven't killed."
"Why should I trust you with personal information about myself?"
"You shouldn't. Just testing you."
"Did you expect me to answer?"
A pause. "I don't know you, but I expected you to say something."
"What do you base that on?"
Another pause. "Intuition."
"Right. Artificial intelligence unit feeding you that 'intuition?' "
"Yes. Good logic flow."
"I wasn't born this week." Or was I?
This time I pause. "Okay, I woke several days ago in an alley--"
"I know it well."
"I'm sure you do. But I don't. In fact I don't think I know anything all that well. I can't remember anything before that point."
"Memory is a funny thing. Tends to get either sold or fried in this world."
"Yes, well I wish I had mine."
"What about the witches?"
"It was a chance meeting. They tried to infect me."
"Do I look like a witch?"
A half smile. "No. Hair's too short. Also the wrong color."
"After that, the eoas attacked. Came from nowhere. Don't know why."
"Cute story. If it weren't for the dead eoas and mutilated wirewitches, I wouldn't believe it. Unfortunately, I was there for part of it. That lends some credibility."
Silence for a full minute. "Your turn, Aran. Tell me."
"Was just taking an early morning stroll."
"With a sword?"
"It's just not safe for a pretty boy like me to be walking the streets unarmed. Somebody might want to steal my liver."
"I'm not surprised."
"Surprise comes later. Anyway, I heard sounds of your little battle and I came to investigate."
"So you're just another concerned citizen of the city of--"
"You don't have to believe me, but trust me, if I went into details, you'd just get a headache."
"I can feel one coming on right now." Static buzzing in the dark of the mind.
"There are some flesh vendors down the street who would be more than willing to remove your head. Might make that go away."
"I'm more attractive with my head attached."
Not even a hint of a smile. "That's a matter of opinion. But--"
"Are you a Technomancer?"
Total silence except for running water from the next room. Aran's head cocks to one side, listening? He's not moving for a second and then he's on his feet, grabbing his trenchcoat. The sword he was carrying before appears from nowhere. I think I can hear it humming, but perhaps not. "I'm leaving."
Aran stops, head turning over his shoulder. "Don't leave. There's food somewhere if you look for it." And then he's gone.
And he didn't answer my question. I'm beginning to get used to this.
JACK enters. She's washed and wearing a black skinsuit. Her skin glistens in the dim light of the room. "I'm hungry."
I didn't even know wirewitches needed to eat.
I'm sucking down a colorless meal. Gelatinous and slimy, it feels like it's crawling down my throat, but it must get the job done. This is the first food I've consentually consumed. Wirewitches must've fed me while I was out before. That doesn't count though since I was drifting in the dark then. Not sure how this stuff stays down nor am I sure where it comes from, but at least it works. Stomach's not aching anymore. JACK's eaten the contents of at least ten of the little packets this slime comes in. As a matter of fact, she ate the packets too. Don't know why and I'm not going to ask.
She hasn't said a word and the room has been quiet. I'm about to change that because now is not the time for quiet. I suppose that after what just happened, I should be craving silence, but I don't. There's no comfort in the silence because it's just that, nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, right now I have a whole lot of nothing in my life. I have less than a day's worth of memories and that leaves me with a big dark hole in my life history. Don't like that. Not at all.
I put an end to the silence because I have a question I want answered. I ask JACK, "How does it feel?"
"How does what feel?"
"Cyberspace is shutdown."
JACK closes her eyes, but answers, "It is the worst experience I have ever had."
Talking fast now. "It's like a part of my body's been cut off. It was there before and now it's just gone! My mind keeps thinking that if I just try a little harder, I can contact the matrix, feel its presence. I keep trying and trying and trying, but there's nothing there. There's nothing there for me to contact! How can that be? Cyberspace cannot go down! It just can't!"
"But it did."
"I know I know, but it doesn't make any sense! What happened? What caused it to go offline? No one person could do that! It would take an enormous amount of effort, and even if there was some sort of organized effort, I'm still not sure it's possible. It just doesn't make sense! Oh, I miss it! We wirewitches need it! I need it! It's like a hunger inside that just keeps gnawing and gnawing and I can't satisfy it!"
"You mask it well."
"You saw what happened out there! We we're uncoordinated and my coven was destroyed! They're all dead. NAAQ, KIKA, TERA, 3-43--all dead. They're all dead because we didn't--couldn't communicate. All because cyberspace was offline and we couldn't deal with it."
"But outwardly, you kept your emotions from showing. You fought calmly and methodically, even as each of the others died. How can you do that?"
"There are priorities to everything. All actions and events are placed somewhere in the hierarchy of life. During a battle, emotional displays have little place. The time to mourn is after. When engaged in combat, there are many things to distract one from the fight. In order to win, those must be put from the mind."
"Who decides this 'ordering'?"
"The situation. No situation is the same therefore no ordering can be the same."
"So you decided that defeating the eoas took higher priority over keeping yourselves alive?"
"Yes. The eoas were an immediate threat to us and you and that had to be dealt with. Wirewitches have fought eoas before and have killed them, so it was deduced that the same result would apply in the situation."
"But something went wrong."
JACK's eyes still closed, and mouth still talking fast. What's different about her? Has anything changed? Maybe she talks like this all the time. She continues. "We made an error in not realizing fully that the situation had changed. We had lost cyberspace contact with each other. We had no way to communicate our actions and movements and desires to each other. The eoas had the advantage the entire time and we didn't realize that. The absence of cyberspace affected us more that we could fathom. It affected our ability to make good decisions. That's what killed my coven. Even now I don't know how much it's affecting me. My thoughts and conclusions seem logical to me right now but I guess I wouldn't even know if I was about to make a wrong decision."
Welcome to humanity, JACK. But no, you're not human anymore are you? You're not human at all. "How old are you?"
"I've been a wirewitch for thirteen years. Beyond that my life has no meaning."
"Your body is actually older than thirteen years?"
"You do not understand, syl. I have been a wirewitch for thirteen years. 'Before' is a meaningless idea--it doesn't apply and I can't explain it because I cannot explain what isn't there. When the infection takes place, age loses its meaning."
She called me by my informal name. Guess she doesn't totally hate me. For a wirewitch, that's downright friendly. But then again, this is not a normal situation and she's not acting normally. Even she admits she doesn't know how to act. In this case, wirewitch doesn't mean what it used to. Don't know what to do with that just yet. I'll just wait and see. But for now, more questions. "What was that place where I stumbled into--where the eoas attacked?"
"That was just one of many places where my coven would take refuge."
"That would explain the pulse shielding."
"Yes, that is usually enough to keep most of the overly curious away. It's really just an early warning system for us."
"Wirewitches keep on the move don't they?"
"By necessity. Constant unauthorized interface with the matrix tends to get the Cyberspace Council mad."
"How many violations do you have?"
JACK smiles at that. "Four thousand plus at the time cyberspace went down. Can't up that though unless cyberspace boots back up."
"I'm sure the CC will do something."
"I'm sure that they'll try. The question is: 'Can they do anything?'. I wonder if they even have an idea what happened? I doubt if it will be up anytime soon. I mean, this is big. This is the biggest event to occur since the Cyberspace Revolt. The reachings of this are beyond what I can imagine--and I'm a wirewitch who dwells in cyberspace every second of every day! I haven't been out there since it fell so I haven't seen the results of this, and I'm not even sure I want to. I know it's bad out there though. How many days has it been? Six?"
"We're going to have to go out there."
"I know I know I know. But it's bad out there."
"Since you agree, I have just one more question for you, JACK."
Hair stalks quivering. "What's that?"
"Do we do this alone or together?"
Her eyes flip open. Blue spheres swirling liquid from across the room. She walks over to where I'm sitting and stands against the wall next to me. For a second, circuit grooves appear on her skin, then are gone, fading into light blue smoothness, flawless.
Hand touches my shoulder. Grated voice upward says, "I don't want to do this by myself."
Exhale the unconscious held breath.
Taking a moment for self-examination. Inward.
The endless questions tire me. I don't know why I feel turmoil.
Yes I do.
JACK's words are bouncing around in there and I like them. She
doesn't want to be alone. That was as blatant as an offer of
friendship gets from a wirewitch. Some part of me--the whole part--wants
friendship right now, in this moment and in the future. Somebody
to talk to and to make the solitude go away. Somebody that will speak
words to me and convince me that I'm here and alive and human. Somebody
to look at and have them look back. Somebody that breathes.
Somebody to just be. It's the physical presence I suppose
that I need--the reassuring that somebody else is near and aware of my
existence. I need to be noticed and acknowledged? Yes, that's
it. At least in part. But something makes me uneasy.
Uneasy? Is that the correct word? It will do for now.
But why do I feel this way? It's not JACK. I look at her, and
no it's not her. The problem lies not with her, but with me.
Myself is in conflict with me. It's the change that's bothering me
I think. I've been stumbling through all of this on my own up until
now. I didn't have anybody on my side--nobody there to care.
Now, with only a few simple words, JACK has set something into motion inside
me. Whatever it is, it feels like it's awakening from a very long
sleep. It's the companionship inside me. It feels right
Yes I do.
"Who are you, syl? I mean, who are you really? Tell me." JACK asks.
"I have no idea."
"What brought you to this sector?"
"I--I don't remember. I just woke up here. I was in an alley. I was naked. It--it was dark, and there was rain, and...and the rain stuck to my skin and something...something else...blood! There was blood, my foot was bleeding! I still don't know why. And I couldn't think straight and then I tried to stand and...and I fell and there was...was--"
...cold / glow / chrome / flesh / contact / warmth...
"--someone...I think it was Aran...I was on top of him and I was cold and he was so...so... but he startled me and I ran. Didn't have any direction, just kept out of the light and then I came to where you were. Somehow the pulse shielding went down--I don't know how, but it did. And you know the rest." But nobody knows the full story do they?
"You don't remember anything? Nothing before you woke? Nothing at all?"
"Not one thing. There's a blankness there and I can't penetrate it." But the static. What about the static?
"I'm sure the answers are there somewhere. I can help you search for them if you want. I'm willing to do that. But if you don't want to, then I won't talk about it anymore. I think you want to know though."
Admit the truth. "I'm scared."
"So am I, syl. Very much."
Control flowing away now. Have to release it all. "Glitch I'm scared! I don't have direction. I'm groping around here trying to just live but...but it--it just seems so difficult! I don't have a point of reference! I know my name and that's about it! I've only had a few hours of waking life, yet I'm obviously older than that--and I'm supposed to get up and walk around and survive on this forsaken planet. I woke up naked and bleeding! Oh, that's funny when you think about it! Just like a newborn! I might as well have just been born! Only instead of an infirmary, somebody decided to dump me in a rotting alley which just happened to contain a Technomancer who probably would have killed me if he hadn't been too drunk! But I didn't stop there did I? No, I had to go crash in on a wirewitch coven in a vain attempt to get myself infected! It's a good thing that didn't work or I would've missed out on all the fun with those eoas! If I wasn't still alive, I would think that I had died and was being punished! There's just so much I do not know!! I hate this!!"
"GLITCH!!" What's going on here? I'm losing control. This isn't like me. Is it?
"Do you feel any better?"
No. Breathe. No. "Yes. Sorry about that. It's just frustrating."
"You do have some memories though, syl. That much is obvious."
Memories? "What do you mean?"
"You know so much. You know how to talk. You knew about wirewitches and the witchkiss. You knew about eoas and Technomancers. You have a knowledge of this world"
"What you are actually not remembering is anything concerning you and your personal history."
"Let me ask you a question."
"What is significant about the year 2104?"
"That was the year the comet collided with earth."
"How did you know that?"
"I--I don't know."
"Obviously you were taught it at sometime in your past. What about 2133?"
"The Cyberspace Revolt--"
"Exactly. I mentioned it before and you knew what I was talking about. My point is that you have some knowledge and you are using it without even thinking about it. It's natural to you just like interfacing with cyberspace is natural for me. They're unconscious thoughts that we all use every day."
"But all that isn't important. I want to know about myself! I want to remember about me and all the things that I did before."
"It may not be easy. It may be frightening. More than you can imagine."
"I know. I'm feeling the dread already, and I'm willing to admit that I am frightened. But I'd rather face my fear with some memories. These questions raging inside my mind are too much for me to endure."
"But are you willing to face something that should be feared even more?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are you willing to face the possibility that you have no memories for a very good reason?"
"I'm still not quite--"
"What if the reason you can't remember is because you don't have any memories to remember?"
No. Don't want to think about that. "But that's impossible."
"Is it? Do you really believe that?'
Yes. Breathe. Yes. "No."
"Can you accept that possibility? Are you willing to take the chance?"
"I don't have a choice because I won't let myself have a choice. I must know the answers--whatever they are. I must know."
"It's not going to be easy. Out there, the innocent are cannibalized."
"I know, but I take comfort in one thing."
A wirewitch smile.
"What scares you?" JACK asks after awhile.
(What scares me?)
I do have fear. There are things that scare me out there. Things which I can't describe. No, maybe I just don't want to think. Think about fear. Think about the things. The bad things.
"You don't ask the easy questions do you?" I ask.
"No. I guess I have a tendency to get right to the point, and I will ask a question if I have one. I don't stop myself from asking too often. It's how I am, and I can't really apologize for it. It's not specifically a wirewitch trait, but it is common among my kind."
"So I should be prepared?"
"Yes. And you can do the same to me."
"I'll keep that in mind. I'm not sure if that's how I interact with others. It doesn't feel like me, but it is possible. In reality, it comes down to the fact that I can't remember. Maybe I have lost some parts of my personality."
"Is that something that scares you, syl?"
"I think what scares me is the not knowing. Maybe I am incomplete. If part of me is missing, and I think it is, then I want to know about it. If I don't know, then I feel like there's a...a blackness inside me and I can't get it out!"
"But that doesn't make sense. Wait--yes it does--but that can't be all of it. You're not telling me something."
"This isn't easy."
"I know. You don't have to answer. It's not--"
"No, it's all right. I--I think I need to do this. My quest is for answers and that's also something that scares me, but the rewards of the quest are greater than the dangers involved."
"So what is it that you're not telling?"
"It's just so much more than just not knowing about myself and my past. That's part of it, but not all. In the end I'm afraid that what I find out will be contrary to what I am now."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I think a certain way right now. I believe a certain way right now. What if what I discover goes against the way I am right now?"
"Should you be afraid of that?"
"Regardless, I am."
"Shouldn't you consider the idea that we all undergo changes in the course of our lives? We change how we think, how we act, and how we react. These are not static throughout our lives. If discovering yourself changes you, and it will, then is it not logical to just accept that--to take that along with all the other happenings which are going to occur during your time on this planet?"
"I can accept the changes when they come, but that will not alter my trepidation at their coming."
"Your fear goes even deeper, syl. I can sense it in the way your voice is modulating. What is it?"
Modulating? Guess it's going to be hard to hide information from JACK. "I'm afraid of the evil."
"You think there's something evil in your past?"
"I--I don't know...it's just a feeling, but I'm afraid that it's really a memory."
"Are you afraid that you're evil?"
JACK takes my hand. The soft / coarse ridges of her fingerprints press against my palms. "You are not evil, syl."
My fear. "But the potential is there. And that's what really frightens me. If there was evil in my past--if I was evil--then uncovering my past could bring the darkness back. I don't want that. It's something I'd rather not have to deal with."
"You're not powerless. If there truly is wrong in your past, you have to keep in mind that you are not like that anymore! You don't have to go back!"
"But what if I'm not strong enough? What if I'm overwhelmed?"
"syl, you are strong."
I am strong? "I am weak, JACK. Very weak."
"You are strong, and you can't deny it! If you weren't strong you wouldn't have survived this long."
Truth? All I can do is nod assent, defeat.
JACK continues, "As you pointed out before, you have support. I will help you."
Sound muted for minutes. Inward reflections cycle around, but there's no remembrance. I ponder. No grasp on anything concrete so I let my mind drift.
JACK interrupts my indirection with, "Where is Aran?"
"He left. Didn't say where to."
"Something disturbs me about him. It was just a vague impression, but I can still feel it."
"He's a Technomancer. Probably gets that often."
"Most likely. But wirewitches have nothing to fear from Technomancers. My impression wasn't spawned from previous encounters. No, this was something unique. I'm having a hard time describing it to myself so it's even more difficult to explain it to you. But I got a tingle--a little internal alarm. I don't know why. He seemed preoccupied."
"Mysterious," I whisper before I think.
"True. I think he's dangerous also. Dangerous to an extreme degree."
"He did kill an eoa."
"It's more than that. I think he's dangerous to those around him. He was a danger to us when he was here. I know he saved us, but I could feel it emanating from him when I walked by. It was vague and unfocused, but it was powerful."
For some reason, I feel hesitant about asking my next question. I don't think I want to know the answer. But, glitch, I ask it anyway. "Do you think he's coming back?"
"I don't think so either. But I'll see him again. I'm sure of it."
"I would agree. Somehow, sometime, we are going to meet that Technomancer again. We'll have to be prepared."
"I'm not sure that's possible, but it would be wise for us to be on guard. That's something to worry about later though. Right now we have more pressing concerns. I'm a little worried about those eoas. What if there are more of them? What if they find us here?"
"Wait a minute. You think that wasn't a random attack?"
"Eoas in the city? How often does that happen?"
"Well, I've never heard of it before, but it's not impossible."
"This city is an island, JACK!" How do eoas get here from the mainland? They can swim that distance, but they'd have to have a high degree of motivation to do something like that. In my opinion, that is highly unlikely. Somebody brought them here and sent them after me or your coven."
"I suppose it is possible--"
"Very possible, JACK, and we need to take that into consideration. We need to keep moving for the immediate future. At least until I feel more comfortable about all this--after we've have time to sort some things out."
"What do you suggest we do? Do you really want to go out into the city? It's rough out there--even for wirewitches."
"I know, but it's what we need to do."
"I can see immediately that we have three things against us. One, I'm a wirewitch. If people aren't afraid of me, then they probably want to kill me. Some people just don't like my kind. Others have grudges and feel that all wirewitches share in responsibility. And there's always those that want bragging rights on having killed a wirewitch. Hair stalks from dead wirewitches are like trophies out there.
"Second, you're human. You're not just any human though. You're totally, wholly pure. You are flawless physically, and you haven't polluted your insides with machinery and electronic implants. Your hair alone could buy us a decent hover vehicle. Your limbs would get us a city block, and your working insides are priceless. You're probably the last of the pure in this city. There may be a few others, but they would never admit it and they would be impossible to find. The point is that you are a valuable commodity, and that makes it dangerous for you to reveal yourself to anybody.
"Last, we're females. Like it or not, we're considered weak by the majority. Even the fact that I'm a wirewitch doesn't protect me from this. It's not something we can do a whole lot about, but it's a reality we must be prepared to deal with. We'll be seen as easy prey, and that alone can bring trouble our way."
"But it is unavoidable, JACK."
"So you have fears too then?"
"I'm a wirewitch, not an android. I have the same emotions as you. I can't change that. I wouldn't want to."
"In a way, I'm glad that there are things in this world that scare you. It makes you more real to me. It's something I can relate to in you."
"Do you need to relate to me? Is that necessary?"
"I think so. Especially if I'm going to consider you a friend."
"It most likely wouldn't surprise you if I were to tell you that I've never heard that from anybody before."
"Then I'm glad I was the first."
The witch sits down beside me. "syl?"
"What is it, JACK?"
"Out there...before...when that eoa was..."
"Well...thanks. That's also something that nobody's ever done for me before. It...it means something to me,"
"But what about the coven? Didn't you share that type of relationship with them?"
"Covens share bonds deeper that what I can put into words. The only way you would fully understand would be if you were to become a wirewitch yourself. Since this doesn't appear to be possible with you for some reason, it is a logical conclusion that you cannot ever comprehend the intimacy I had with my coven. But I can tell you that physical contact is not the usual action taken to comfort a wirewitch."
JACK's talking swift again. Been doing it off an on throughout the conversation. Her hair stalks are moving like serpents against the wall. Every few seconds one brushes against my shoulder, strawish and warm, tickling my skin but it's a reassuring gesture, no matter how unconscious it it.
"We have to go," I say. "Out there."
JACK turns towards me, eyes liquid and tumultuous. "Our future is out there. Are we ready for this, syl?"
"Aw, glitch the future. It better be ready for us. I'm scared, but I'm not going to stop now. This feels too right."
JACK's mouth forms a smile. "Let's go."